United’s Unlimited Complimentary Domestic Upgrades: the Other Shoe Drops

As I posted yesterday, United is ending 500-mile upgrade certificates and going to unlimited complimentary upgrades.

This change on its own is on the whole good for 1K (100,000 mile) flyers. They won’t have limited free upgrades, having to pick and choose which domestic flights to use them on. It’s not good for lower-tiered elites, who will now have to compete against 100,000-mile flyers (and Global Services members) on every flight.

Unsurprisingly, though, this change comes along with some other tweaking which is not good.

As speculated yesterday, confirmed regional upgrades go away. Currently 1K members get up to 8 of these a year (promotions aside) and they’re good for confirming a domestic (including Hawaii) upgrade at time of booking from any fare. While there are no more 500 mile upgrades to worry about, there are no more special domestic confirmed upgrades either, there will be far fewer upgrades at booking and more upgrades pushed to the complimentary upgrade window.

Of course any Mileage Plus member can use miles to upgrade domestically, elite or not, but mileage upgrades will have a co-pay next year — and in the case of Hawaii the co-pay is hefty.

It’s also worth noting that United’s p.s. flights from JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles are not part of the complimentary upgrade scheme. The only way to upgrade those flights will be miles (with a co-pay) or Systemwide upgrades (which feels like such a waste). Glad I don’t usually have to fly this route. And frankly p.s. service has been so degraded that I’d prefer first class on a standard route utilizing three-cabin equipment (and even business class on that same route provided it’s on a 3-cabin 767 or 747).

At the top tier, speciifc routes flown notwithstanding, I now consider American’s Executive Platinum level superior to United’s 1K. Both get unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades. American’s 100,000 mile flyers get 8 systemwide upgrades while United’s get 6, and American’s are valid on even more fares than United’s. The only benefit to United, then, is routes flown. If you want to upgrade to Asia United is a better bet for instance. Of course American has much more of Latin America covered.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The other shoe has, indeed, dropped. Will unexpired 500-mile upgrades still be usable come 2010?

  2. More questions as I try to digest this:

    1) Has UA said anything about increasing the number of SWUs we receive?

    2) If UA is discontinuing CR1s, what will 1MMers receive as our annual gift? We currently get 2 additional CR1s each year.

  3. @Carol, I haven’t heard about UA increasing the # of SWUs. That would take away the sting of losing CR1s for sure, and could reverse my conclusion about this whole mess! Which is precisely why I doubt we’ll see that 😛

    No news on Million Miler gifts, and I suspect there won’t be for awhile, UA isn’t easy to get information out of — we usually have to wait until things happen to know they’re going to happen, at least with things that affect only a small portion of the Mileage Plus base nad aren’t posted online.

  4. @Carol, I think the reference to regional upgrades in “You may use Mileage Upgrades, Regional Upgrades or Systemwide Upgrades to experience United Business or United First on these unique flights.” means that you can use regional upgrades *while they still exist* (ie until the remaining ones expire).

  5. Oh, and I do think the reference to the ‘uniqueness’ of the p.s. flights is sort of amusing.

    p.s. itself was arguably not an improvement over the old premium transcons when it was first introduced. Since then the cutbacks have been severe.

    I suppose that are UNIQUE FEATURES to the flights, but that’s different than the implication that they are SPECIAL.

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